Christmas is a time to pause and remember emigrants from all shores
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Christmas is a time to pause and remember emigrants from all shores

Happy Christmas.

An especially Happy Christmas to those of you who will be remembering and missing loved ones this year.

We’ll be doing that, here in a corner of Ireland my emigrant father was born in, and now lies buried in.

He came back to Ireland. I know not everyone does.

I know there will be plenty of emigrant Irish lying in graves across Britain. They’ll be missed just as much, I’m sure. They’ll be loved as much.

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Christmas brings us together and it makes us reflect. That’s a good thing.

I’ll be thinking about my father. How much he loved Christmas and loved all of the family around. Good memories of Irish Christmases here in Ireland and over there in the UK too. It’s good to remember.

I’ll be remembering too the 2,000 children experiencing Christmas inside Ireland’s Direct Provision Centres, which is our chilling method of housing those who are seeking asylum here.

Those who have fled situations beyond our imagining.

Some of those children will have been born in those Centres. They will have spent their entire lives inside a system the UN, Amnesty International, the Irish medical profession and countless others have decried as inhumane.

It has been said again and again that this is our generation’s Magdalene Laundry scandal. And it is.

So, yes, I’ll remember those children and their families for a number of reasons. Because I know them and they aren’t ‘them’. They are just us. They are just you and me. Just people wanting the best for themselves and their families.

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Their kids are just kids like my kids, like yours.

I’ll remember them because we were immigrants too, weren’t we? It is what defined us. It still does.

I’ll remember them too because there are sinister voices out there now doing their level best to stir up hatred and resentment against these people. Against these children.

One of them, who tried and failed to get a Presidential nomination, is a serial hatemonger.

She has even tweeted a picture of school children at an Irish primary school and claimed because many of the children were black that Irish society was under assault.

Under assault, not from inequality or a corrupt financial system, or our own stunted political ideologies or the overwhelming threat of climate change, but from children.

Yes, that is how low those people will go. How distorted they are.

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I’ll remember them too because comfortable, privileged Irish politicians, gave succor to these kind of sentiments when there was local controversies around the provision of accommodation for these asylum seekers.

Controversies stirred up by the hatemongers.

I’ll remember those children in Direct Provision because Noel Grealish TD, Mattie McGrath TD, and one of my own TDs Michael Collins, flirted and engaged in casual racism.

Set loose in Irish politics a way of thinking we probably haven’t seen since the Blueshirts.

I’ll remember too when the election comes around next year that I contacted Michael Collins’ office and asked him to furnish me with evidence for some of the claims he was making in relation to asylum seekers. And I’ll remember that he still hasn’t got back to me.

I’ll remember too the not far off 4,000 homeless children in this State this Christmas.

I’ll remember them because of the overwhelming injustice of their Christmas.

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Some people lazily say that we can’t or shouldn’t look after the other 2,000 children in Direct Provision because we need to look after our own first, but the idea that 4,000 children are homeless because 2,000 children have no home either just makes no sense of any kind at all.

Looking after our own? Come on, it’s simple racism, isn’t it? Or plain stupidity. Take your pick.

After all, how strange to blame the plight of some at the bottom of the pile on some of the others at the bottom of the pile.

How strange not to blame it instead on two men with direct responsibility for it, Eoghan Murphy, the Housing Minister, and Leo Varadkar, the Taoiseach.

Two men expensively and privately educated and personal strangers to the world of the homeless. Both pretty good, though, if economic and political policy is anything to go by, at looking after their own.

I’ll remember all that.

But I’ll remember most though those emigrant Irish like my father. Those who directly experienced hardship and bigotry and injustice and rose above it. Came out of it with love in their hearts and a smile on their face.

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They might be gone but there’s always a place at the table.

Happy Christmas.